Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kane would be wise to take what's on table

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Stalling is a well-worn negotiation tactic so one shouldn't be surprised Evander Kane's representatives are using the strategy in an attempt to squeeze more money out of the Winnipeg Jets.

That's their job.

But with the current collective bargaining agreement about to expire and players of Kane's status in the line of fire, the Jets will most likely be unwilling to flinch.

NHL managers want a new CBA to curb spending where second-contract players are concerned and they want unrestricted free agency status to be harder to achieve in terms of both age and years of NHL service. Kane, who joined the NHL as an 18-year-old and has three years of service under his belt, will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in four years at the age of 24 according to the current agreement (seven years service or age 27 whichever comes first). But ownership wants that to change.

So what will be available to Kane and other players coming out of their entry level contracts after Sept. 15 is an unknown. History would indicate it will be a tougher atmosphere for such players.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has put a six-year contract worth close to $29 million on the table and Kane's people have had it sitting in a desk drawer for a number of weeks now. They haven't said no and they haven't said yes. They haven't said much at all.

Maybe Kane's people at Newport Sports are hoping another team will come in with an offer sheet to up the price. Jets fans have expressed apprehension about such an occurrence. They shouldn't.

First and foremost it likely won't happen. If Kane was so attractive to other clubs they might be willing to risk what comes along with putting in an offer sheet -- it would have happened by now.

Secondly, no manager wants to put in an offer sheet if it is certain to be matched. It only serves to raise the market value of players and the ire of other GMs.

Let's be perfectly clear right now -- any offer sheet signed by Evander Kane will be matched by the Jets.

If Winnipeg didn't match they might as well "shutter the franchise," as one agent told me on Tuesday. Once you let one bully take your lunch money, the others begin to circle like buzzards.

The other side of this, of course, is the Jets simply won't be bullied. By anyone. Winnipeg's ownership is the among the wealthiest in the NHL. While one will never hear Mark Chipman or David Thomson spouting off about the horsepower behind the Jets, if they get tested they will respond.

Maybe there's a GM asleep at the switch and unaware of the power and wealth behind the Winnipeg Jets. Maybe he'll try and poke the organization. The first response would be swift as the Jets would match. The second response might take a little longer to come but it would be far more delicious for Jets fans.

One should know the philosophy behind the Winnipeg operation would prevent them from doing business in the predatory manner required to make an offer sheet actually work. Rich teams must put out a bloated offer in the hopes a weak franchise can't match. It speaks against everything Chipman and Thomson stand for as partners in True North.

The Jets won't put in offer sheets on other teams' players. Not unless someone does it to them first. Then the gloves would be off and when the right opportunity came up, Winnipeg would be willing and ready to strike against an organization that had crossed their bow.

Cheveldayoff has made a long-term, big money offer for a 20-year-old player with one good season to date. Kane scored 30 goals and added 27 assists in his third year in the NHL. His previous two seasons were pedestrian.

Kane is young, strong-willed and talented. The Jets should want to lock him up and they do. Kane should want fair market value and at this point with what he's done in his career -- that is what this offer appears to be.

New York Islanders centre John Tavares, who has 202 career points over three seasons to Kane's 126, recently signed a six-year deal worth $33 million. Is Tavares worth more than Kane? As a playmaking centre that can also score the answer is definitively yes.

Kane is one-dimensional at this point. He's a finisher and while that's a valuable asset for a team, Kane hasn't shown the ability to lift his teammates. Tavares is a franchise player. One can't say that about Kane.

There won't be any fireworks in the Kane drama going forward. It will quietly unfold with the player either accepting the deal on the table or taking a risk and waiting to see what is available to him after a new CBA is agreed upon.

One might suggest $29 million in hand isn't much of a risk. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2012 C4

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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